‘Beyond the Lights’
Every now and then humanity is given exactly the type of hyper-melodrama that will drive them crazy with tears and feels, and they choose to ignore it. In some cases they come around eventually; it’s what happened with “The Shawshank Redemption.” Other times they take a little longer, as with the still neglected Tom Hardy-Joel Edgerton boxing weepie “Warrior.” Hopefully people realize “Beyond the Lights” — the tale of a Beyonce-esque star (played by rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw) fighting for love over fame — is catnip sooner than later, especially now that it streams on Instant whenever they’d like.
Melodrama tends to be a dirty word, and the latest from Gina Pryce-Bythewood (of “Love & Basketball,” itself a home video sensation) isn’t ashamed to play things straight and earnest. At the same time it never comes close to the insanity of, say, an episode of Lee Daniels’ “Empire.” It’s a cool-tempered and realistic-ish depiction of a purple-haired diva reared since childhood, by a demonic yet semi-sympathetic stage mom (Minnie Driver), to top the charts. When she meets a taciturn, old school man’s man (Nate Parker), he slowly convinces her to abandon her oppressive, careerist scene, or at least sing a more soulful form of soul.
“Beyond the Lights” has a lot of anger for modern pop music and how it reduces women to gyrating flesh. But its ire is tempered by the cool sincerity of the performers, and by a visual style that uses long takes and long lenses to create a moody intimacy. Parker arguably goes too withdrawn at times, but his remoteness is well-matched with the wide-eyed Mbatha-Raw, who smolders and anguishes just like the best. The movie should have built off the steam created by her turn in “Belle” and made her the biggest actor in the world. Its not too late.